What’s in a handicap? A mini-unit for Intermediate French Learners


I remember discovering slam by accident through unforgettable voice of Grand Corps Malade. Captivated, I listened to several songs and quickly realized that his lyrics were brilliant, full of personal experiences intertwined with quintessential human issues and emotions. And the way he played with words showcased his wit and the beauty of French language at the same time.

“Too long, too complicated for my students,” I thought at first. But as I learned how to work better with lyrics by scaffolding a series of tasks that lead to better understanding of artist’s message, I decided to give it a try. My students loved him. Many for the same reasons that attracted me to Grand Corps Malade in the first place – relatable human stories – but there were several of them who had “a-ha” moments of understanding poetry at a deeper level than they ever did before. And that made my geeky linguist’s heart so happy!

For this mini-unit, my main resources were the trailer of the first film of Grand Corps Malade Les Patients and the feature song of that film Espoir adapté along with film poster, synopsis and brief biography of the artist. It’s important to note that the film is based on the book with the same title written by Grand Corps Malade about the outcomes of the accident in his youth that almost left him paralyzed. But don’t tell this to students, let them discover it!

Here’s an outline with a detailed description of the activities and resources that I used. Pick and choose what you want to read more about. As your class length might be different than mine and our daily lesson routines will vary, I am not providing the days but rather progression of steps in working with these authentic resources. This unit will work best with students who are close to or are already at the Intermediate Mid level of proficiency. For Steps 1-4, print pages 1-4 of this dossier that goes along with this presentation.

Step 1: The poster

  • Display the poster and have your students discuss with a partner or small group what kind of document they see. With our school’s focus on literacy, I’m constantly asking students for the evidence – why do you think it’s a movie poster? What elements of the document support their claim?
  • After establishing the type of the document, I suggest using “I see, I think, I wonder” technique in order to get the most of interpreting this visual. If you’re not familiar, here’s a quick rundown:
    • “I see” phase focuses only on stating what is visible (facts) and it is important that you insist that your students give you facts only at this stage of discussion. Here’s what my students came up with:  There are five people on the poster, one of them is in the front. There are also words on the poster, some of them are crossed out. The ones that are crossed out are verbs of everyday actions involving physical movement. The ones that are not crossed out are the verbs also but they are expressing emotions, not movement… etc.
    • Now that your students have an objective description of the poster, it is the time to interpret it by making connections to previous knowledge – “I think” phase. If your students hesitate, ask them who the people are, why one of them is in the front, why some words are crossed out and others are not. You get the idea. Anything and everything that can be interpreted and discussed should be. And if “I see” phase can be done on the fly, the “I think” phase should be given time so that students can reflect and jot down their thoughts first; this will make for much more productive discussion.
    • Finally, the “I wonder” phase is for any questions they may still have about any and all elements of the visual.
  • To conclude this step, I suggest asking students to pay attention to the title of the film by writing definitions for both noun and adjective and trying to explain how they are related. This will introduce them to the beautiful world of word play often used by Grand Corps Malade.

Step 2: The trailer

  • Play the trailer for class. Ask your students to focus on visuals as they watch the trailer for the first time; the audio is somewhat challenging but you can work with it later, if you so choose. Discuss as a class the genre and the themes of the movie.
  • As you play the trailer the second time, focus your students’ attention to the messages that appear throughout the trailer, pause the viewing so that they can write them down. Ask the kids to discuss in groups how the trailer illustrates these messages, have them write their ideas and their emotional reactions to the trailer.

Step 3: The synopsis

  • I found a long video of film review that I didn’t care to use in entirety. But the presenter spoke very clearly and I decided to use this to my advantage to create a narrow listening task where students must fill in the blanks in the transcription of the presentation. I decided to use SafeShare.tv to crop the video and  allow my students ease of replay in the segment that I wanted them to work with (it’s doable in Slides too but can get sloppy in the replay). Here’s the result and the original video in case you need YouTube link.
  • If your students have access to technology, they can complete this task on their own and compare with classmates afterwards, or you can do it as a class for the sake of efficiency.
  • After completing the synopsis, students summarize the story and answer the questions that follow. I included several medical term definitions for the sake of language practice and found that some of my students did not know them in English. Two birds with one stone 🙂

Step 4: Biography

  • To create some conversation, before reading the biography, print page 5 from the dossier and cut apart the cards. Make one set of cards per group of students, I had 6 groups of 4 students so I made 6 sets. Students distribute cards among group members. Tell students that cards represent important moments in life of Grand Corps Malade and ask students to make predictions how they may factor in. This will prepare them to read the biography.
  • You can ask the kids to read the text of the biography silently; I like to work on pronunciation every now and then and asked them to read it out-loud with a partner. Afterwards, the kids discussed how the life of Grand Corps Malade, the book Patients and the film with the same title are connected.

Step 5: The song

  • Print pages 6-8 of the dossier single sided for each student.
  • We watched the video and listened to the song as a class and the kids shared their first impressions in groups. This is something that they do regularly, so no support was needed.
  • The lyrics look intimidating at first, so I like to ask students to highlight EVERY word that they know, recognize, or can guess, including articles, pronouns, prepositions, etc. Seeing the majority of the page highlighted gives them courage to attempt interpretation. However, I knew that this time, I will be asking challenging questions afterwards and did not want any struggle now. So I used the “cut and paste” trick (see below).20180205_092752-1
  • Print page 9 of the dossier, one copy for each student. This page contains English version of the lyrics but out of order. Give your kids some scissors and some tape and ask them to tape the corresponding version of the lyrics to the right of the French verses. (see photo) It’s a good hands-on activity that serves as a brain break between focused work with the text.
  • Finally, the best part: reading between the lines. The students worked in groups to interpret the lyrics and they did need help every now and then. As I circulated around the class, we had some good discussions, sometimes (gasp!) in English. They shared with me that they had little to no experience working with poetry on this level of text analysis. Many appreciated (re-)discovering the beauty of word play, of subtle messages, of emotional involvement with the text.
  • To summarize and reflect on their learning, the kids answered the last two questions of the dossier in writing. I evaluated them using task completion, comprehensibility, and language control as my criteria.

Slam show down

Finally, I asked my students to create and perform their own slam. They looked at me and blinked as if saying, “Madame, do you R-E-A-L-L-Y mean this?” I kept smiling and encouraging them to chose the topic that’s personal and/or universal, to write a draft that has a message and is emotionally engaging. And so they did.

I just finished a round of draft reviews and I am blown away by topic choices, voice and ownership of the task, and of course, creativity of my students. Some of them tackled tough topics of immigration, searching for own identity, absence of a parent, deadnaming, or sexual harassment. Some highlighted personal experiences of high school pressure, making difficult decisions, and quest for independence. Yet others spoke of meaningful memories, future dreams, and important people in their lives. Now they just need to practice delivering their creations slam-style and I can’t wait to see the final performances!

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